Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt, said in August he was 'flabbergasted' that computer science was not taught as standard in UK schools. Photograph: Murdo Macleod
Computer lessons are out of date and too easy in English schools, the government has warned.
Classes in computing – known as Information and Communication Technology (ICT) – are "insufficiently rigorous" and in need of reform, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said on Monday.
The warning came as part of the government's response to an independent review into how the UK can become the world's leading hub for video games and visual effects companies.
The review, published in February by Ian Livingstone and Alex Hope, who are leading figures in those industries, called for the state of ICT in schools to be "urgently tackled". They warned that if the government failed to address the problem, the UK would no longer remain globally competitive in these fields.
The UK video games sector is worth more than £2bn in global sales a year – more than either its film or music industries. Visual effects is one of Britain's fastest growing industries. But both sectors fear they are losing their cutting edge because schools and universities are failing to teach pupils the necessary skills their industries need.
"The industries suffer from an education system that doesn't understand our needs," the review said, adding that ICT in schools only teaches pupils word processing and spreadsheets, and not the technical knowledge of computer science, such as coding and programming.
Most university courses in video games or visual effects are flawed, the review said. It called for a computer science course – rather than ICT lessons – to be part of the national curriculum and a full review of the state of computing classes in schools.
At the moment, ICT is compulsory for five- to 16-year-olds, but this may change following the government wide-ranging review of the national curriculum.
In his response to the review, Ed Vaizey, the creative industries minister, said the government recognised that there was a difference between learning word processing and how to manipulate spreadsheets and acquiring the knowledge that underpins computer science.
He said the government would be looking to improve GCSE courses and would help technology firms to work with schools to offer pupils "a genuinely rigorous grounding in computer science". Vaizey said there needed to be more high quality computer science teachers. "Over the next few months, we will be looking at the best ways to achieve this," he said.
There has been a 57% fall in the number of pupils taking ICT GCSE over the last five years, while last summer the number of students sitting computing A-level fell for eighth successive year.
The Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, delivered a critique of the UK's education system during a lecture in August, saying the country had failed to capitalise on its record of innovation in science and engineering.
Schmidt said the country that invented the computer was "throwing away your great computer heritage" by failing to teach programming in schools. "I was flabbergasted to learn that today computer science isn't even taught as standard in UK schools," he said. "Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made.
David Cameron later said Schmidt was right and admitted that Britain was not doing enough to teach the next generation of programmers.
The Department for Education is due to publish a technology strategy for schools in the new year. Michael Gove, the education secretary, has praised schools that put their courses on the web.